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Gaza, Abbas, and the Resurrection of Egypt By: Micah Halpern
MicahHalpern.com | Thursday, August 11, 2005


The Gaza Redeployment is not just about Israel's withdrawal from the area. It is not just about the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. It never was. Israel's withdrawal from Gaza has always been a measuring stick, a marker, a barometric tool to determine the winds of change in the region. The fateful day approaches. There are many interested parties and many agenda. Let's examine them.

The most important agenda to examine is that of the United States. Plain and simple, the United States needs this redeployment to happen and they are exerting a tremendous amount of energy to make it happen. The United States is pressuring Israel not just to leave but to also offer aid to the Palestinians on their way out. The United States is pressuring the Palestinians to let this happen and to stop any provocateurs, any acts of terror, from dismantling the process.

The United States envisions peace between Israelis and Palestinians. They see the Gaza Redeployment as a massive step towards the fulfillment of that vision. Today Gaza, tomorrow the West Bank. And they want to make certain that the transition takes place quietly.

The United States needs to prove that they can make good on their promise. They promised to support Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas, they want to secure his position. They believe in him, more than do many of his local Palestinian constituents. They believe that Abbas wants to bring peace to his people. They want the Palestinian people to view Abbas as a strong leader and they think that the Gaza Redeployment will bring proof to the people that with peace comes good, that if peace emerges and liberalization occurs, their lives will be improved, their voices will be heard. The United States also believes, I would say naively, that the best tactic against Palestinian extremists is pelting them with examples of the good that is gained through peace.

The United States believes in good will gestures. Egypt, on the other hand, wants to regain partial control of the area.

The Egyptians are lying low during this process of withdrawal and, as a result, nobody is watching them very closely. They have issues and their own very strong agenda for the Gaza Redeployment.

Gaza is an area that for many years was under Egyptian control. That control was vanquished by Israel. The Egyptians do not see the Palestinians as strong and do not believe that they will ever gain strength, even under the leadership of Abbas. And that pleases the Egyptians. A weak Palestinian government leaves the door open for more experienced Egyptians to enter in a pseudo-advisory capacity and wield power in the area. With the Palestinians "in charge" and with the Israelis out of the area, the Egyptians become the doorkeepers, literally and figuratively, of Gaza. It is the Egyptians who will control the border. It is the Egyptians who will observe from the outside what happens on the inside of Gaza, and then determine their next moves.

In the Palestinian world, Egypt, not the United States, is big brother.

The Palestinians themselves are split into two groups. There are those Palestinians who hope and those Palestinians who hope to sabotage the Gaza Redeployment.

One group of Palestinians believes strongly in Abbas and they are hopeful that he can and will create a better life not just for their children, but also for themselves. They are the silent majority of Palestinians, not just silent, but silenced by the other group of Palestinians, their louder, more enthusiastic brothers and cousins. This group wants the withdrawal to fail and they intend to use the failure as a metaphor for the leadership of Abbas and as a tool with which to topple his government. This group thinks of Abbas not as their leader but as someone who has sold them out, who by virtue of accepting this unilateral withdrawal is collaborating with the enemy. And they want an all-out war with Israel.

The rest of the Arab world is watching, quietly, carefully offering no support, no advice, no encouragement, no words of warning. They are fearful of civil war.

Obviously, the greater Arab world is pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel, there is nothing that will ever change that agenda. Right now they cannot fathom how the Gaza Redeployment will impact on the lives of average Palestinians. So far, and time is running short, they have offered almost no post-withdrawal aid commitments to the Palestinians. They do not know how to approach this unilateral action taken by Israel. They do know, however, that with the withdrawal comes the threat of a Palestinian civil war. If the Gaza Redeployment fails, they will surely, publicly, blame Israel.

There are others who are looking to place blame. And the blame will fall squarely on the broad shoulders of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Israeli Prime Minister Sharon expects, truly believes, that this withdrawal will help protect more Israeli lives, that it will save soldiers and settlers and all citizens from unnecessary death due to terror. He undertook the Gaza Redeployment as a unilateral action for the sake of Israelis, that was his agenda. The prime minister set into action not a negotiated settlement but a unilateral move because he saw it as being in the best interests of Israelis.

Former ministers and members of the Sharon government, Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, accept that the withdrawal is now fact, but want payback for Israelis. They are shouting that now is the time to make demands on the Palestinians. Use the leverage, they say, tie the withdrawal to action against terror or to education or to democracy. Turn this into a big agenda item, not a throw away. Some of their followers, the people in orange, want to topple Sharon for selling out, for selling his soul. It is unlikely that they will bring Sharon down over the disengagement.

Sharon's opposition party, Labor, has similar thoughts but they are more subtle in their actions. The liberal Labor party is hoping to support Sharon in the government during the Gaza Redeployment and then bolt. Labor intends to use the redeployment as a way to resuscitate itself. Before they joined Sharon's government, they will claim, the Gaza Redeployment would never have happened. They joined and the national agenda changed so it is only fair that they take credit for the withdrawal. They want Sharon to stick it out for a few more months giving them the time they need to build themselves up and catapult back into the first leadership chair. Failure will belong to Sharon, success belongs to them.

Failure and success are not at issue when it comes to the European Union and the United Nations. The Gaza Redeployment has been on their agendas for a long time.

The European community and the United Nations believe that the Israelis are doing what they should have done years ago. They believe that they are not doing enough. The EU and the UN do not see the Gaza Redeployment as a unilateral initiative undertaken by Israel. They see it as an entitlement of the Palestinian people and as the correction of Israeli human rights violations. Israel should not be congratulated, it should be apologizing for not withdrawing from Gaza long ago. Their agenda is very different from that of the United States, but their wish is the same, today Gaza, tomorrow the West Bank.

As we all know, a lot can happen between today and tomorrow.


Micah Halpern maintains The Micah Report.


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